Trawling for Sustainability: Norway is working with Thailand to improve its fisheries management
Norway is working with Thailand to improve its fisheries management, imparting some of the knowledge it has learned in restructuring a key sector
Thailand decided in recent years it wants to reform its fisheries xindustry to become more sustainable. Having collaborated with Norway in the past, Thailand approached the country about sharing some lessons from its experience in this field. To that end, the two countries set up a technical cooperation project in Phuket through the assistance of the Royal Norwegian Embassy, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, Norway’s Institute of Marine Research and its Fisheries Department.
The results of the project were improved governance of marine aquaculture in Thailand, use of new technologies involving hatcheries including cage farming and value chain development, and creating regulations for fish health and environmental health impact assessments.
“Fisheries have been an important part of our economy for some time,” said Songphol Sukchan, Director General of the European Affairs Department in the Foreign Affairs Ministry. “Thailand is still the largest exporter of canned tuna in the world. Twenty-four of our 77 provinces have a coastline and there are a lot of fishermen employed in this sector.”
“In the past, economic stability and sustainability were not motivating factors, and this led to overfishing in some instances.
“The government looked into the issue and decided we needed to reform the industry. In the past two years we have passed 190 laws related to fisheries. Last year a new Royal Ordinance was issued on fisheries, the first in 40 or 50 years, so many of these new laws were updating regulations designed decades ago.
“Of course much of this impetus for change was driven by the EU’s yellow card for illegal, unregulated and unreported [IUU] fishing issued in 2015. This led to the formation of the Command Center to Combat Illegal Fishing [CCCIF], chaired by the Thai Royal Navy.
“One major change was the fishing licensing plan was changed from open access to limited access. Licensing cannot exceed the marine area’s capacity to produce animals, meaning the amount of catch is limited.
“The amount of time during the year you can fish is also limited in order to allow fish to breed. We also limit some fishing tools that are known to be detrimental to the fish stock.
“In addition we have set up all ships with over 30 gross tonnage with vehicle monitoring systems that provide a record of where the vessels travel and improves the traceability of the fleet.
“We also established 24 port-in, port-out check-in centres in 22 provinces that check the licence, registration, fishing gear, crew and seaman’s service book of every ship that enters and leaves the ports. We want to use FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN] port measures as a guideline for our port-in, port-out regulations. Our goal is to add four more centres by the end of the year.
“The government is also preparing regulations to be admitted to the UN Fish Stocks Agreement. It is very important that we keep our stock sustainable if we want the industry to last.”
The cooperation project produced recommendations for some of these changes. Other suggestions included a freeze on the number of trawler and push net licences issued, the installation of artificial reefs to allow habitat to rehabilitate, imposing minimum legal mesh sizes for trawls and purse seiners, and promoting community-based fisheries management.
Recommendations for governance included improved monitoring and enforcement to stop IUU fishing and using acoustic equipment to measure fish
In August this year the Thai government joined with Norway to organise a seminar here on fisheries sustainability that brought in Vidar Landmark, the Director General of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department from Norway’s Trade, Industry and Fisheries Ministry. They held a workshop that focused on quota systems, hatcheries and nurseries.
Mr Landmark also offered some advice on cooperating with neighbouring countries, as most marine resources have shared borders. He said there should be an agreement on shared stock allotment and there should be some basic principles such as a discard ban, protection of juveniles, and reduction of unwanted by-catch. Neighbours should build trust through close contact over time and establishment of joint scientific programmes, said Mr Landmark.
Mr Songphol said the Thai fisheries industry is working to adopt some of these changes but the process takes time, a fact Mr Landmark conceded in noting Norway is at a different stage of development in this sector.
“The industry is working to improve its traceability systems,” said Mr Songphol. “They are not perfect yet, but we are adding an online catch certification system that lets a consumer know which ship the catch came from and how long it’s been at sea.”
“The government has already registered 150,000 migrant fisheries workers from border countries so they can be recognised and won’t be exploited. We have also increased our inspections on fishing boats and at factories to ensure there are not undocumented workers.
“We are working with neighbouring countries on a memorandum of understanding to recognise migrant labourers so they will not be taken advantage of in any country. Fisheries reform is a top priority for the government and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has made it one of his pet projects, so it will not slip off the radar.
“Ultimately the authority for all these changes is going to reside with the Fisheries Department. They are trying to restructure the department now and increase its manpower. In the meantime, reform will be driven by the CCCIF with help from the Agriculture Ministry.
“Norway has had a presence in the Phuket area since 2005, helping teach Thais about large-cage fish farming technology. Recently they started teaching us about floating cage technology. One of our goals is to develop a coastline research centre to create a hub for these methods. Thailand is sending post-graduate students to Norway to learn about some of these technologies.
“Of course whenever you try to reform a whole industry there is going to be outcry from stakeholders. Some local fishermen have asked the government how are they going to put food on the table tomorrow if there are quotas. It is a process that takes time to educate people across the supply chain about the importance of sustainability, but the government is committed to that process. I noticed that Iceland withdrew its application to join the EU because of fishing quotas.
“Sometimes change is painful. We have had stakeholders complain that the impact of the changes is too severe. The CCCIF has a channel to evaluate complaints if the effect of rule changes is immense. A panel will look at potential remedies and try to adjust policies.
“In Thailand many of the large seafood companies are coordinating with the government to fight IUU fishing. The Thai Frozen Food Association, the Fisheries Association Coalition, the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Thai Industries and the Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking signed a memorandum of understanding to work with the government to combat illegal fishing and make the industry more sustainable.
“For example, a couple of months ago a major producer found out that pre-processing of shrimp it uses was being done by illegal migrant labour. It ended that relationship and brought preprocessing in-house.
“Now when a company is unsure about the source they’re buying from, they might buy from a different supplier in another country. The goal is to improve traceability throughout the supply chain.
“The government is holding meetings with the Overseas Fisheries Association too. It appears that everyone is on board with the same agenda.”
Above left: Several Thai fishing boats are moored together offshore on the Andaman Sea. The spotlight has recently been on these vessels for allegations of slavery and human trafficking. Above: School of mackerel in Asian waters. PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO